Rebound Sex: Sexual Motives and Behaviors Following a Relationship Breakup

Abstract

The present study used a longitudinal, online diary method to examine trajectories of psychological recovery and sexual experience following a romantic relationship breakup among 170 undergraduate students. Consistent with popular beliefs about rebound and revenge sex, having sex to cope with distress and to get over or get back at the ex-partner were elevated immediately following the breakup and then declined over time, as did the probability of having sex with a new partner. Also consistent with popular lore, those who were “dumped” by their partners were more distressed and angry and more likely to have sex to cope and to get back at or get over their ex-partner. Finally, individuals who reported having sex to cope with negative feelings or to get over their ex-partner at the beginning of the study were more likely to have sex with a stranger and to continue having sex with new partners over time. Results were discussed in terms of widely held but largely untested beliefs about rebound and revenge sex.

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Notes

  1. 1.

    We tested for nonlinear effects of both scales given that equality between partners (the mid-point of our scale) might not lay equidistant between the two poles, as a linear model assumes. Consistent with this possibility, several non-linear effects were found for both commitment and partner initiation. Plotting the non-linear interactions revealed that findings for those who chose the mid-point of the scale were more similar to those observed for individuals who were more committed to the relationship and did not want the breakup than to findings observed for those whose partner was more committed and did not want the breakup. Although such findings do not alter the basic conclusions drawn from the present study, they do substantially increase its complexity. For these reasons, we elected not to include the results of the nonlinear tests of commitment and initiation effects.

  2. 2.

    Three outcomes were dichotomized in the present study due to low base rates: anger, rebound sex, and revenge sex. To determine whether our results were affected by dichotomizing these three outcomes, analyses reported in Tables 2 and 3 for these outcomes were re-estimated using a log transformed version of each variable. Results were identical in terms of sign (i.e., either both positive or both negative) and significance (i.e., either both significant or both non-significant) across the two analyses for all three normative trajectories reported in Table 2. Results were likewise identical in terms of sign and significance for the predictors of variability in the rebound sex trajectory reported in Table 3. Slight differences between the dichotomous and transformed continuous outcomes were found, however, for anger and revenge sex. Specifically, the significant effects of partner initiation on anger and revenge sex reported in Table 3 were weaker and non-significant (though still the same sign) using the transformed continuous measures, whereas the corresponding non-significant effects reported in Table 3 for commitment were stronger and significant. Thus, there is instability across alternative operationalizations of the outcome measures in which effect emerges (partner initiation or commitment) in the multivariate context. However, given that both partner initiation and commitment are significant positive predictors of anger and revenge motives when estimated independently of one another, and that partner initiation and commitment are positively correlated (r = .47), we believe that both patterns of results can be seen as supporting the same general conclusion: Consistent with rebound lore, those who were more psychologically invested in the lost relationship (whether indexed by a measure of psychological commitment or the fact that the partner initiated the breakup) experienced more anger and stronger revenge sex motives. In the end, we opted to report the results of the dichotomous analyses because of their greater interpretability. Details of the analyses of the transformed continuous outcomes are available from the second author on request.

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Correspondence to M. Lynne Cooper.

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Barber, L.L., Cooper, M.L. Rebound Sex: Sexual Motives and Behaviors Following a Relationship Breakup. Arch Sex Behav 43, 251–265 (2014). https://doi.org/10.1007/s10508-013-0200-3

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Keywords

  • Romantic relationships
  • Breakup
  • Psychological recovery
  • Sex motives
  • Rebound sex
  • Revenge sex